Still alive in twenty-five? Nada. Jose Santa Clara, Autohagiographer
The first popular capability for digital multimedia was in the early 1990s. Widespread ownership of color monitors had come about. CD ROM players became reasonably priced. And sound cards for PCs also became available at reasonable prices. The first digital multimedia information products were on CDs and sold in places such as Radio Shack, movie rental stores, some bookstores, and magazine ads. Multimedia meant both interactivity, such as internal links, and diverse media, such as sound, slide shows, and the like. To create a CD required expensive authoring software that was difficult to learn but was nonetheless easier than programming. The promise of digital multimedia creating a revolution in publishing was assumed by all. But as it turned out, it didn’t happen.
Today many pundits claim that the promise of digital multimedia publishing has never been realized. For the most part, that’s true. It seems like we are not much closer to gracefully integrating interactivity and multimedia into text than we were twenty years ago.
There are many reasons for this. The Web superseded CD publishing, yet the Web was not nearly as multimedia-robust as digital information published on CDs. Most people focused on making the Web a commercial success rather than a reading success. The Web platform itself had multimedia protocols that were difficult to make sense of. Geeks, not creative people, controlled the direction of the Web for a long time. People didn’t like to read on their computers any more than they had to in order to do their jobs. And culture always lags well behind technology.
Digital book readers became feasible at the end of the 1990s but were expensive. They were very crude (low resolution) and did not become popular. In any event, they were neither interactive nor multimedia.
Then the ebook-reader-smart-phone-tablet revolution materialized at the end of the first decade of the new millennium. For several years the revolution was in the hands of geeks. But as inexpensive authoring software and services became available, the revolution started slowly transferring into the hands of creative people (e.g., writers). The Web with HTML5 can now handle multimedia gracefully, but HTML5 is still new. HTML5 promises to be the bedrock of book app development for phones/tablets in the future. Phones and tablets have provided consumers a more comfortable means of viewing digital multimedia than PCs, laptops or the original b&w Kindles have provided. And the new mobile market for reading is huge.
The stage is now set for easily and inexpensively creating digital information and entertainment products that integrate interactivity, multimedia, and text; and the viewing public worldwide—finally—has the right instruments at the right price to comfortably enjoy innovation in multimedia publishing.
New capabilities and new and young creators generate new language. Today multimedia seems to be an obsolete term. Perhaps diverse media or enhanced ebook are better terms. Since multimedia can be integrated into book apps even more adroitly than into ebooks, the term diverse media seems broader and therefore better. (Transmedia might be a good term to use except that it means something different.)
Whatever you call it—and I call it diverse media—the technology has turned the publishing industry upside down. But this is the beginning, not the end. Printed books are in decline, a decline which is likely to accelerate. Ebook are booming, a boom which is likely to accelerate. And some of us think that the ultimate book technology is book apps, not ebooks. In any event, the next half-century will be the most revolutionary and most exciting in publishing since Gutenberg’s printing press spread through Europe like a tsunami over 500 years ago.
The big question is, Will printed books still be alive in 2025? Not a chance! Digital diverse media books are the future.
Joseph T. Sinclair
Author of over twenty How To books published by national publishers
Authors and Publishers Digital Review is published by Appworth Media.